Plans progress for 26-mile bike path around Detroit

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Plans for a 26-mile pedestrian and bike pathway encircling the city of Detroit are moving at a fast clip this summer, with schematic designs underway and a highly-competitive federal grant request for $10.4 million awaiting approval.

There’s just one snag: 8.3 miles of abandoned railroad property, the largest gap in the trail to date, remains unsecured by the Detroit Greenways Coalition and is needed to close the circle.

Negotiations continue with Conrail, owner of the rail property that was part of the old Detroit Terminal Railroad, yet no agreement has been reached after nearly a year of talks.

The hiccup has officials concerned but it isn’t stopping development of the Inner Circle Greenway, which uses about 10.8 miles of Detroit’s better-known biking and walking paths — Dequindre Cut, Detroit RiverWalk and Southwest Detroit Greenways — to link to another 15.2 miles of new pathway.

Once completed, the loop will span from the riverfront downtown to north of the Davison Freeway and link neighborhoods through Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland Park and Dearborn, connecting 170 miles of existing bike lanes and shared-used paths. It will take $25 million to complete construction.

“It’s a trail that connects all the trails in Detroit. It connects a lot of automotive heritage sites and parks. I think it’s going to be very interesting,” said Todd Scott, executive director of the Detroit Greenways Coalition, which is working with the city of Detroit on the project.

“This is the biking version of Outer Drive,” Scott said, referring to the 40-mile-long road which encircles both the eastern and western portions of Metro Detroit.

John Enright, spokesman for Conrail, said the company has not determined whether it will sell the property or not.

“It’s still under consideration,” Enright said. “It’s a large transaction. It’s complicated.”

Enright said the amount of appraisal for $4.5 million is not in contention. The company is still reviewing trail development and what liability Conrail could have beyond the rail line.

“We have certain requirements when we sell an abandoned right of way in how its constructed. Those details have not been fully worked out,” Enright said.

Trail plans along the rail line call for a 20-foot wide off-road path with bike lanes in each direction, a separate pedestrian path, lighting, signage, security cameras and call boxes.

In June, the city of Detroit requested a federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant for $10.4 million to build a trail segment from Southwest Detroit to the Davison, just north of the Jeffries expressway.

Known as phase 1, this trail segment will include 3.4 miles of off-road bicycle and pedestrian paths on the abandoned rail corridor along with two miles of on-road protected bicycle pathway.

The city should learn by the end of summer if it’s chosen for the competitive grant program. The city and coalition will need to identify additional funding sources for phase two of the project, which is the north and northeast portion of the trail.

Thomas M. Woiwode, director, GreenWays Initiative for the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, said securing the rail line is important to make the trail complete.

“The abandoned corridor is such an attractive right of way. Having that connective coordinator makes it a much more attractive loop,” he said.

The entire 26 mile route is being put together by the City of Detroit with the assistance from the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.

Pedal power is on the rise across Detroit. There are now more than 34 neighborhood and church-based bicycle clubs in Detroit, most of which were started in the last five years, Scott said.

Tour de Troit has raised nearly $200,000 for greenways and other non-motorized projects in Detroit, helping develop more than 17 miles of bike lanes.

Kelli Kavanaugh, ride director with Tour de Troit, the state’s largest bike ride, said Detroit cyclists want what every cyclist wants: safe streets with agreed-upon rules of the road for both motorized vehicles and bicycles.

Kavanaugh said she is “super excited” about the new pathway.

“So many neighborhoods to experience,” Kavanaugh said. “Off-road pathways are ‘gateway drugs’ to regular cycling. Daily or, any regular, cyclists might be more interested in direct routes and will have the confidence to navigate their own path.”

The Inner Circle Greenway is part of the city’s non-motorized plan to provide connections to employment, education, neighborhoods and services. It is a project identified by the Detroit Future City framework and will be the first major project implemented using the framework, Scott said.

Funding for the trail project is coming from government and private sources including the Natural Resource Trust Fund, the Kresge Foundation, Federal Transportation Alternative Program and local block grants.

Delang Foutner, 45, of Detroit, proudly talks about his Royce Union Spindrift cruiser bicycle as he rides through Eastern Market. He welcomes new bike trails around Detroit.

This month schematic designs for unbuilt trail segments are being developed by The Kresge Foundation. Some of the lanes will be protected bike lanes while others will be off-road, Scott said.

Unlike the Dequindre Cut, newly developed sections of the pathway will be mostly at-grade and will include more road crossings. Scott said the designers are looking at ways to make these safer and more convenient for trail users.

Foundations and nonprofits have been working for decades on trail development in southeast Michigan, bringing dollars to local cites to redevelop local trails and push ambitions plans to link a 1,259-mile hiking trail from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula.

Metro Detroiters at Eastern Market and on the Dequindre Cut this month were excited and encouraged about plans to build a continuous trail inside the city limits.

Carolyn Leadley and her husband Jack VanDyke transport all their produce they grow at Rising Pheasant Farms in Poletown to Eastern Market via bicycle and a 6-foot trailer.

Leadley said the safest place for a bicyclist is on the roadway, where motorists can see them, but she likes to use rails-to-trails pathways for leisurely rides with her children.

“We would use the new pathway for recreation, but that’s it,” she said. “We’re excited the Dequindre Cut is hooking up to Mack. We will use that.”